Thursday 29 September 2005

You couldn't make it up (part 9,497)

I have worked in the advertising and public relations industries and just can't imagine this sort of thing being tolerated by a private client:
IT WAS meant to be a showcase for all that is good and worthy in the Scottish Parliament, but Holyrood's glossy annual report became the subject of ridicule when it was published yesterday - because it prominently features two former MSPs who have left the parliament in disgrace.

Embarrassed officials were forced to explain why they printed pictures of Lord Watson of Invergowrie and Keith Raffan, both of whom left the parliament following scandals.

It's not as if there wasn't enough time to avoid this stupidity:
The annual report was printed over the summer, a considerable time after Mr Raffan had left and at least six months after Watson had been charged with wilful fire-raising at a political awards dinner.

But officials saw no need to alter their plans and produced the report regardless.

The "officials" who have written the report say that they don't want to "air-brush history". There's absolutely no danger of the Scottish people forgetting about the two politicians concerned. But an annual report is normally designed to promote the good news about the organisation in question. Can one imagine a PR company proposing a report that included a photograph of an ex-employee now serving time for fire-raising at a hotel that had been occupied by his colleagues? The officials in question should meet the same fate as would have rapidly overtaken a private PR company that acted in this way.

Incidentally, why are around 29% of the reports being published in Gaelic, a language spoken by about 1% of the population?

Historical fashion

My wife and I are attending the first session of this course tonight.

I was wondering if we should wear T-shirts carrying this message.

Sunday 25 September 2005

The weekend (Part 2)

Zooming in on the last of the Muirkirk signs we see this:

Muirkirk - 24 September 2005
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Over three hundred years ago people in Scotland were giving their lives for "... the Independence of Parliament from the excessive and arbitrary power of Kings". The problem we face now isn't to be found in the Monarchy. It's in the excessive and arbitrary power of Parliament itself, or rather in an Executive that ignores our rights and is in the hands of a Gramscian enemy class that the Covenanters would have understood only too well. What would they make of those sheeple today who don't give a damn for their rights as long as the benefits keep flowing?

On Sunday morning's drive I passed through the constituency of the late Robin Cook. The only signs of electioneering were posters from the Greens and the Labour party. No doubt Mr Devine will be sent to Westminster by a mindless public that doesn't understand that "There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch."

Unless you're a gull of course:

The weekend (Part 1)

Way back in 1984 I bought my first property – a flat in Ealing. The London flat was sold in 2002 when we finally made the move to our present home in Edinburgh. You may imagine the sense of dread I had a few weeks ago when I received a letter from the London Borough of Ealing. My God, it’s something to do with the Council Tax, I thought. Maybe the new owner hadn’t coughed up and somehow I was liable. Well, it was about the Council Tax but it turned out that a subsequent resident of the old abode had successfully appealed against the tax banding and, consequently, I was entitled to a sizable rebate for most of my period of ownership. I must say that I was very impressed that the LBE had sought me out in this way and I therefore decided that here was a sign that I should now invest the proceeds in a digital SLR camera.

Last Sunday we went on a trip to Haddington to try out the new machine. Sadly, the weather was somewhat cloudy and windy and I had a bit of a cold.

Yesterday I went over to Ayrshire, but I had neglected to establish that the west coast forecast didn’t include the sun that was shining brightly in Edinburgh. After taking a few shots in a murky Ayr I decided it was time for a pint and ended up in this establishment:

Ayr - 24 September 2005
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

For those of who don’t know, Ayrshire is Covenanting country. That means that locals tend to be of the Rangers persuasion, as I had noticed on previous pub visits when the Huns were on TV. (I vaguely recall a friend at Ayr Academy who supported Celtic and who was considered odd in the extreme.) Anyway, I had completely forgotten that Rangers were playing Hearts on Saturday, and yes the game was on TV in the Black Bull. I began to think that I should hide my copy of the Scotsman in case I was outed as a Jambo. Sure enough, a local asked me which team I supported. "Kilmarnock", I blurted out, quite forgetting that Killie is the deadly enemy of Ayr United. Fortunately it turned out that the “local” was really a tourist and was actually from Kilmarnock himself – all of ten miles away. Conviviality ensued.

After consuming the customary fish supper I set off back to the East Coast. While passing through the rather rundown mining village of Muirkirk I noticed this sign and pulled over:

Muirkirk - 24 September 2005
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

I must say that I have a soft spot for the Covenanters and would like someday to visit the various battlefields of that period.

Here are the signs on the monument at the west end of Muirkirk. (CLICK photos to enlarge):

Muirkirk - 24 September 2005
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Muirkirk - 24 September 2005
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Muirkirk - 24 September 2005
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Muirkirk - 24 September 2005
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Thursday 22 September 2005


I see that the welfare mentality is alive and well in the SNP:
ALL Scottish graduates will have their student loans wiped out if the SNP win the next Holyrood election, under plans being drawn up by the party’s research unit.

The radical policy, being examined by the Nationalists’ shadow education spokeswoman Fiona Hyslop, is to be debated at the party’s conference in Aviemore next month. If approved by delegates, the measure is likely to be central to the SNP’s “pro-enterprise” manifesto in 2007.

The Nationalists believe the multi-million pound debt racked up by graduates has become a drain on the economy and a constraint on consumer spending, and writing it off would be an extension of current party policy to replace student loans with grants.

Where does one start when faced with this nonsense?

First I'm inclined to regret not having any debt left from my own days of studying. Clearly I should have waited for it to be "written off" - in other words for it to be paid for by the majority of taxpayers who didn't undertake any higher education.

Then I can't help laughing at the suggestion that such a policy is "radical". It's not - a radical policy would be to privatise the whole higher education sector right now.

Next, this proposal is labelled as being "pro-enterprise" on the grounds that these poor welfare bums won't be contributing as much as they might otherwise to consumer spending. Does it not occur to Ms Hyslop that the poor old proles who are to be compelled to "write off " the debts of their betters will have less to spend under her brilliant scheme?

Finally I come to the small print. The average student debt is around £12,000.

According to the Sunday Herald:

MSPs in all parties are concerned that graduates have to earn almost £22,000 just to pay off the interest on their loans. Below that figure, graduates watch as the interest mounts.
I note that one can get an unsecured loan from the Halifax at 6.7%. The annual interest on £12,000 would come to £804 and to pay that one would need to allocate around £1,200 of one's pre tax income. If that's not affordable the person in question just isn't likely to make a success at anything in life and certainly deserves no subsidy.

Monday 19 September 2005

Backup plan?

I'm sure that this observation is correct:
THE decision by the RBS Group to build a new, £220 million, American headquarters - inadvertently leaked only days after the Queen opened the bank's magnificent new Edinburgh headquarters - should be welcomed rather than taken as a vote of no confidence in Scotland.
We should be pleased that Scotland is the home of one of the world's largest and most dynamic of banks.

Nevertheless, one can't help thinking that the Royal may want to keep its headquarters options open just in case Jack McConnell opens his stupid mouth again:

Or is the real Jack McConnell the one who reportedly branded two business leaders who had the temerity to criticise the Scottish Executive’s policy “idiots?”

New site discovery

I came across this site the other day. The open letter to Nicola Sturgeon is especially interesting.

Sunday 18 September 2005

Haddington - September 2005

Haddington - September 2005
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

How appropriate to discover today that Samuel Smiles was born just a few miles south of Adam Smith.

Click here to see other photographs of Haddington in East Lothian.

Friday 16 September 2005

Hyperinflation breaks out in London

According to tonight's Edinburgh Evening News:
SALARIES in the City of London have attained levels not seen since the height of the dotcom boom.

New research by economics consultancy the Centre for Economics and Business Research forecast the average pay packet would reach £326,000 this year, up almost £10,000 from last year, with further hikes on the cards for 2006 and 2007. The rises come after three years of firings following the economic slowdown.

I'm sorry, but I don't believe that.

Quite a few years ago I worked in the City. Back then I would guess that most of the people working there were "back office" staff, secretaries and junior clerks. No doubt some of those roles have now been outsourced to India, but £326,000? Come off it!

I wasn't able to find the information on the CEBR's own website, but I did find this:

Salaries in the City of London have risen by an average of 7.5 per cent since February 2005 as a shortage of candidates leaves employers struggling to recruit skilled staff. The trend is even more marked among senior professionals, where salaries have risen 16 per cent over the last four months to £77,081, according to figures from City recruiter Morgan McKinely. Over the twelve months since May 2004 the average basic City salary offering rose by 3.5 per cent. It is now £49,800 compared to £47,042 in May 2004.
So in May the average City salary was £49,800 and now it's risen to £326,000. With sloppy reporting like this in the business pages no wonder so many people fall for the propaganda of collectivists.

Danger zone

First it was binmen in shorts. Now it's bouncy castles. Is it unusually dangerous in Fife?

Tell me it isn't so

I came across this interesting speculation:
He said: "Everyone who is over the age of consent who has some knowledge of the world will know an area with a close association with docks would have prostitute activity.

"The trade around Leith grew up to service the needs of the seamen, and possibly the recent move of the Scottish Executive to the area has ensured the continuation of the prostitutes."

Yes, possibly.

Thursday 15 September 2005

Broadcasting boundaries

You could have guessed that something like this was going to happen:
The SNP's Christine Grahame complained about the level of UK-wide coverage given to a sport she said was of "only marginal interest in Scotland".
I wonder if Ms Grahame is still speaking to her colleague Ms Cunningham:
But Ms Grahame soon found herself embattled after only one of her colleagues, Bruce McFee, signed up in support and another of her other SNP colleagues, Roseanna Cunningham, signed a Tory counter-motion rubbishing her claims.
There was indeed full coverage of the Ashes on television here in Scotland, and it seemed to me that there was a great deal of interest. Over the 25 days of play I visited several of Edinburgh's excellent pubs and, without exception, the Test Match was shown live on TV. These were local establishments, not the "Hooray Henry" places that can be found near the somewhat anglicised University. With only one exception that I noticed, every Scot watching seemed to be supporting England.

Nevertheless, the rather mean-spirited Ms Grahame does have a point. She's clearly out-of-touch when it comes to Scottish interest in cricket, as most of these comments demonstrate. But there is something that antagonises most Scots, nationalist or not.

For example:

This was a specifically English event and should have been covered on English regional news. Had it been Scotland or Wales, that is exactly what would have happened. Another example of the London-based TV stations getting confused between England and the UK. Will they ever learn?
How many people do or don't play cricket in Scotland is irrelevant to the discussion. It is no different to the insufferably verbose coverage that was given in the UK-wide media after the England Rugby World Cup win. It is not the sport that is the problem, it is the crystal clear fact that many south of the border (and very many in the SE) find it almost impossible to make a distinction between England and Britain, and that fact translates through into the media - print and broadcast. That is the area which requires criticism, not leather on willow.
The differentiation between England and Britain has disappeared again.
and again:
I have no interest in cricket, but even if I had - why did the BBC keep saying "the whole nation is celebrating"? Surely, they meant "England" is celebrating? Now I know why a friend of mine calls the 6 o'clock news "The English News".
The BBC really does have to address this problem. After devolution we were told that the BBC would make special efforts to get the England/Britain distinction correct. Of course, such a policy should have applied pre-devolution as well. But the BBC doesn't seem able to get it right. On "national" British news programmes we still get a stream of items about health, education, policing and so on that do not apply throughout the UK but that are presented as if they do. That kind of sloppiness does the SNP's work for it.

Tuesday 13 September 2005

Scotland's Oil?

The SNP are demanding an apology:
THE SNP demanded an apology from the government yesterday after uncovering secret Whitehall papers detailing how North Sea oil would enable an independent Scotland to prosper.
They're not going to get one:
However Scottish Secretary Alistair Darling dismissed the document.

He said: "This is typical of the Nationalists, looking back to the past. This document is 30 years old.

I think that the SNP have every right to be upset:
Kenny MacAskill, of the Scottish National Party, said the report was proof of 30 years of official lies, cover-ups and betrayal.

He added that it showed how much Scotland would have benefited from independence and oil.

He said that in the 30 years since the report, Scotland had suffered low economic growth and manufacturing decline while at the same time oil wealth had "transformed" Canadian provinces and Arabian sheikdoms.

But Mr MacAskill, "lies, cover-ups and betrayals" are what governments do. I'd expect an SNP administration to be no different when it suited them. But the real question is this: would an independent Scotland have benefited from the oil? MacAskill talks about "Arabian sheikdoms". Perhaps he's envisaging a Scotland in which we all drive around in gold-plated Cadillacs, have our every needs attended to by Indian immigrants, and from which we regularly pop off to Geneva to inspect our gold bars or undergo the latest medical treatment.

I'm afraid that the reality might have been somewhat different. You see, the GDP per-capita in Saudi Arabia was $12,000 in 2004. The UK, with much less oil and many more people, managed $29,600. Having few natural resources didn't stop South Korea's per-capita GDP reaching $19,200, more than half as much again as Saudi Arabia. Perhaps government leaders (maybe including Mr MacAskill himself) would have been jetting off to Switzerland, but the rest of us might well be unemployed, like 25% of Saudi Arabians.

Owning lots of oil isn't necessarily a recipe for prosperity. Far more important is a culture that respects property rights and whose people admire and wish to emulate entrepreneurs. Sadly, that doesn't sound like Scotland, does it? Better to say, proudly, "It's Scotland's Adam Smith", rather than "It's Scotland's oil".

Not out

When we were watching the conclusion of the Ashes yesterday I said to my wife: "I wonder how Blair will milk this one?"

Well, he has, but not quite in the way I expected:

England cricket coach Duncan Fletcher has been granted British citizenship after 15 years of trying following intervention by the home secretary.

It is thought Charles Clarke got involved to ensure the row did not sour the success of England recapturing the Ashes from Australia after 18 years.

I'm sure this is only the beginning.

Welcome ...

... to a new blog written by an F&W reader.

Monday 12 September 2005

Making a difference

On Saturday I stated that the Scottish government is in the hands of incompetent morons. Perhaps I was unfair. It seems that there may be one minister who is not a moron and may even be competent. In today's Scotsman I read this:
BUSINESS leaders have lauded a dramatic weekend offer by the enterprise minister, Nicol Stephen, to "crash the diary" this week, by cancelling engagements to tackle head-on the vital issues affecting Scotland's economic growth.
The Minister's quick response to the complaints made by the business community is probably not unconnected to his being one of the few people at Holyrood (of any party) to actually have had real experience in the private sector.

We hear a lot from Jack McConnell about wanting Holyrood to be different from Westminster. Labour likes to have quotas for its candidates and so far these have been designed to increase the number of women elected to office. Why not show a real commitment to business by insisting that at least half of Labour's Scottish candidates have worked in the private sector? That would really be doing things differently from Westminster.

Saturday 10 September 2005

It ain't necessarily so

A few weeks ago I took out a subscription for Money Week and I must say that I can thoroughly recommend this publication. I do have a wee complaint about the current issue, which tells us:
(1) Between 1999 and 2003, Scotland's GDP was less than it would have been if the country had been on a par with the overall UK economy.

(2) The gap widened each year, and by 2003 was around £4.3bn.

(3) This means that, so far, devolution has cost Scotland more than £17bn.

(4) This sum is an equivalent of an extra £3,500 for every man, woman and child in the country.

I'm assuming that points (1) and (2) are correct and that point (4) follows axiomatically from point (2). However, point (3) doesn't follow at all.

It may be that the decline in comparative GDP is connected with devolution, but that certainly isn't demonstrated by Money Week's story. Perhaps GDP might have been lower without devolution. Maybe it makes no difference whatsoever. That's not to say that I support the present Holyrood regime. On the contrary, I believe that Scotland's government is in the hands of incompetent morons. But that's not an argument for abolishing devolution - it's an argument for electing sensible politicians who have responsibility for raising their own finances. Even with devolution the UK remains by far the most centralised state of its size and that does the country no good at all.

Friday 9 September 2005

Cymruphobia in Glasgow

A football fan has been fined for calling a Celtic player a wee Welsh bastard. No, it wasn't the heightism or the parentism that was the problem but the "racism". The Welsh are a race? That's news to me and I must say that I think that our courts are in a grip of an incurable madness. I note that girthism and gingerism are not yet offences, but will get you a telling-off from the police:
Questioned by Bonar's lawyer, Iain McSporran, why he had been arrested, PC McLeod said he believed it had been "a racist comment".

Mr McSporran then asked what would have happened had a fan abused Bellamy's ex-team-mates John Hartson by calling him "a fat b*****d" or Neil Lennon "a ginger b*****d".

The PC said he would have told off the person involved - but would not have arrested him or her as that was not deemed an offence.

Talent not required

The Labour party has rejected the candidacy of Mr Charan Gill for the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary bye-election in Cathcart:
He joined the party only on Monday, so did not meet its rule of being a member for at least a year before being elgible for selection.

The executive decided there were no "exceptional circumstances" which would have allowed him to stand.

How ridiculous. Mr Gill would have been an outstanding candidate and surely the "exceptional circumstances" clause in Labour's rulebook should have been activated. I heard Mr Gill on a radio programme a couple of weeks ago and was mightily impressed:
Rather than being born with the silver spoon syndrome, on the contrary, Charan's childhood was tough. He arrived in Glasgow from the Punjab, India in 1963 at the age of 9 with little knowledge of English or indeed the western culture. Denied a university education, he started his career as a turner and fitter at Yarrow's Shipyards on the Clyde
Gill went on to found a restaurant empire and is now a multi-millionaire.

The Scotsman covers this story today (payment required unfortunately) and isn't in the least surprised at Labour's decision. What intrigues me is this: Why on earth would a self-made entrepreneur want to be a Labour politician? It's not as if the Indian restaurant business is in line for juicy government contracts, and anyway Mr Gill has now sold his company. Shouldn't the Scottish Tories be asking themselves why the likes of Mr Gill aren't turning to them?

Thursday 8 September 2005

From the horse's mouth

It's a pity that this story about the blogging revolution is hidden behind the subscription curtain at the Scotsman. From my printed edition I offer this extract:
At their best, they provide an authentic new source of first-hand information. They break stories. They challenge professional reporters to get it right. They keep the media honest. They increase the flow of information. In that context, it doesn’t matter that most of them are rubbish.
Now who could that be? Glenn Reynolds perhaps? The folk over at Samizdata maybe? No, it's none other than Bob Eggington, former editor-in-chief and creator of

(Cross-posted to Biased BBC.)

Wednesday 7 September 2005

Do I get to drive a bus down Princes Street?

Who'd have thought it? I've been made Minister for Transport.

Following the examples set by my all too numerous predecessors, spending has commenced immediately. I've sent this message to the Prime Minister Benign Dictator In Chief:

I’m afraid that I’ve had to spend a considerable amount of my miserably small budget already. The department has hired an Under-Secretary In Charge Of Transport Negotiations With Brussels. There were a couple of minor problems, but they’ve been resolved to my satisfaction: (1) The appointee is foreign, and (2) He demanded a peerage. I explained the situation to my regular lunchtime drinking companion, the Duke of Edinburgh. (Amazing that this town was named after him. And imagine if he still spoke nothing but Greek: I’d be living in Edinopolis.) Anyway, he’s fixed things with the other half for the ennoblement of Lord O’Leary of Ryanair. Welcome to the department Michael.

Monday 5 September 2005


I've posted a few recent ones on Scottish Clouds. Some have already appeared here, others not.

Ladder or snake?

The Royal Bank and tell house buyers to head to Scotland for the best return on their "investment":
First-time buyers are being urged to head north for the best return on their investment, as house prices continue to climb.
But is a house an investment? It may be - my former home in London and now the one in Edinburgh turned out to be good purchases and I am very pleased to have paid off the mortgage and now live without debt or rent. But a house is primarily a consumer good - it's for living in. It isn't necessarily true that buying a house will always turn out to be an "investment", as Merryn Somerset Webb explains here:
In my building in Paddington, west London, I figure it is now about £5,000 a year cheaper to rent a two-bedroom apartment than to buy one (assuming you do so with a 90% interest-only mortgage) despite the fact that asking prices in the building are already down 20 odd per cent from their highs a year ago.

So why on earth would you buy one? It’s a very expensive way to put yourself “on the ladder”. If you rent instead, you can save your £5,000 a year and put it towards buying a flat when prices have fallen another 20% (which they will).

I think that's correct. Rent the house and put the £5K in gold, silver, oil, water or uranium. Avoid snakes.

Who should pay for the G8?

The City of Edinburgh Council is concerned about the costs incurred during the G8 meeting:
They fear that Edinburgh taxpayers will now be left to pay up to £1m of the costs despite a pledge from Jack McConnell.

The First Minister has said that the Scottish Executive will pay "all reasonable costs" associated with the summit, but warned there would be "no blank cheque".

I seem to recall that the Gleneagles Hotel was prevented by Whitehall from flying the Saltire on the grounds that the G8 was a British event and not a Scottish one. Nevertheless, there seems to have been some sort of agreement to share the costs between London and Edinburgh. So why this argument? Surely it's because the "agreement" hasn't been properly spelled out. Can anyone imagine a private company entering into a contract that seems to be as vague as this one? But of course private companies have owner's money at stake and there's a huge incentive to make sure things are watertight in advance. It looks like another reason to support privatised roads.

Only at the point of consumption

STATE schools may be free
... writes Shan Ross in the Scotsman.

There again, perhaps someone has to pay for them.

Loch Lubnaig Yesterday

Loch Lubnaig
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Loch Lubnaig
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Loch Lubnaig
Originally uploaded by David Farrer.

Friday 2 September 2005

Atlas Shrugs

There's little opportunity to blog at the moment as I'm spending most of my spare time monitoring events in New Orleans.

As mentioned earlier there's non-stop news and commentary on Free Republic, which is now on its 13th Katrina Live Thread with several thousand comments on each one. Information direct from the city centre is on this site. (Photos of today's fire here.)

For a touch of doom and gloom, try Time Bomb 2000, although their site is often unavailable to non-members because of server overload.

Thursday 1 September 2005


When I was a small lad my grandfather gave me two pieces of advice:
(1) Never trust the Russians

(2) Only donate to the Salvation Army

I had no idea what "Russians" were but I knew that the Salvation Army were the folk who had a brass band that regularly marched down the main street.

Following the advice of my grandfather I recommend that Katrina donations be sent here.

Have a look over on Instapundit for further suggestions.